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Home <> Lifestory Library <> Pick of The Week <> A house like a dump

  Contributor: Pat SmythView/Add comments

Pat Smyth, a civil servant with the National Assistance Board in West Tyrone from the 1930's to the 1950's, recalls his memories, experiences and the larger than life personalities he encountered on the way.

Maggie Coulter was an eccentric elderly lady who lived by the roadside at Clogher and had a goat, which wandered in search of food. Often it impeded passing Clogher Valley trains since the unfenced track lay close to the owner's doorstep.

The train crew pelted it with coal, to make it move, but the old lady usually took her time in calling home the animal, the harvest of coal being more than welcome.
Maggie's cabin resembled a municipal dump. The rubbish heap started at the hearth, covered the kitchen floor and spewed out on to the verge of the road. The Welfare people, as soon as they were appointed, enlisted the support of the Sanitary Office, the bishop of Clogher, the woman's doctor and ourselves to persuade the eccentric lady to change her life style, but in vain.

Money was not the answer. The last report I saw described how she slept on a bag of hay on the hearth and had no food except half-a-bottle of milk and blue-moulded bread.

The visitor from our office saw paper money and coins here and there on the floor, also blue-moulded. She could have been compulsorily removed but all concerned respected her freedom to live the way she had chosen.

The case made headlines in local papers but Maggie just continued in her chosen way of living, doing no one any harm.

Pat Smyth, 2001
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